Net gains: Get ill-informed

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Internet can be a hypochondriac's dream or nightmare, but it can also allow patients to be as clued up on the latest drugs and techniques as their doctors

Like most men, I usually think I'm ill with something, but I'd sooner stick my head into a bucket of boiling water than go to a doctor. Fortunately, though, cyberspace turns out to be a hypochondriac's dream. No matter what you think you have, somebody somewhere has advice for you.

But the Internet should come with a health warning. Advice can range from the useless to the downright alarming. Pity the soul, for example, who stumbles across "Kaiser Permanente's" page on sunburn: "Feel like you are going to faint? Unable to keep fluids down? Fever of 101 degrees fahrenheit or higher without sweating? This is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Go to hospital immediately!"

The advantage the Net holds over family medical dictionaries, though, is that it's invariably bang up to date. For example, Medicine Online, an American page for cancer patients has a news section which is updated every day. The upshot of this, and similar web sites, is a democratisation of medicine - patients can now be as clued up on the latest drugs and techniques as their doctors.

Newsgroup lists are packed with medical forums. Rather than merely downloading information from the web, patients can use them to discuss the pros and cons of various treatments with each other. The groups are all found under the "alt.support" hierarchy and offer forums for illnesses ranging from cancer to arthritis to tinnitus. It's here that you'll find the cutting edge of opinion-making such as "alt.support.prozac.survivors" whose subscribers believe that its side-effects make Prozac's invention one of "the world's great tragedies". Bear in mind, though, that these groups are unregulated; take information you find there with a pinch of salt and remember there is nothing to stop any dodgy entrepreneur from trying to flog their own "alternative" remedies.

If you're looking for more credibility, many medical institutions now have their own home pages. If you want to avoid the search engines, try the Lifestyle UK home pages, which have an index of over 500 medical sites. As well as being straightforward to use, the list has clearly been vetted, and most have something to offer. I particularly liked the Travellers' Medical and Vaccination Centre, an Australian page which gives vaccination advice and health risks for people going abroad. In the Lifestyle UK list, you'll also find the "Home Doctor", which allows you to type in your symptoms and retrieve a list of over-the-counter remedies. By this stage, though, you should have realised that some of these pages have to be approached with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Of course, after a few hours of pursuing the ultimate healthy lifestyle you may, find yourself with eyestrain. The cure is painfully simple: switch off your computer and go for a long walk instead.

Medical Sites

www.lifestyle.co.uk/acd.htm

Extensive and well-edited index of medical sites.

www.meds.com

Information for cancer patients, updated daily.

http://www.medetail.co.uk/home-doc

Home doctor. Type in your symptoms and check out the remedies.

www.biopharm-leeches.com/index.html

Why it's time that leeches should make a return to therapeutic use.

SITE UNSEEN

http://www.tmvc.com.au/

Advice for travellers about vaccination and health risks in various countries around the world

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